We need to take an honest look at youth ministry. For the past three decades, youth ministry has exploded across America, accompanied by a rise in the number of degrees in youth ministry granted by colleges and seminaries, an abundance of books and other resources, and a network of cottage industries devoted solely to youth ministry.
Yet those same three decades have failed to produce a generation of young people who graduate from high school or leave youth groups ready to change the world for Christ.
Looking Good on the Annual Report
The overwhelming majority of the people who make professions of faith and are baptized do so before age eighteen. Thus youth ministry is the force that fills the pool. Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of those we have baptized know neither the gospel nor the Christ of the Scriptures and have a worldview that is more closely aligned with Marxist Socialism than it is with Christian Theism. Our numbers look good on the annual report, and apparently that’s what matters most.
Alvin Reid, chair of the Evangelism Department at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed this issue in his book, Raising the Bar. Reid, who is a proponent of youth ministry, notes, “The largest rise of full-time youth ministers in history has been accompanied by the biggest decline in youth evangelism effectiveness.”
Youth Ministry Drops the Ball
Thus it is hard to argue that being against youth ministry constitutes being against youth evangelism. In fact, one could argue the opposite. It is the youth ministry movement that has dropped the ball in evangelism. Evangelism is not about getting young people to walk an aisle and sign a card, only to apostatize once they get to college. Evangelism is about making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). The most effective way to make disciples of teens is to make disciples of their parents and teach them to do what God commands, which includes evangelizing and discipling their children.
Of course, this model flies in the face of what most churches believe youth ministry is all about. Mark DeVries, author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, offers a candid assessment of the desired outcomes of youth ministry: Most youth ministries that I’ve seen are vastly undercapitalized financially and in terms of staff and volunteers. Plus, most youth pastors work with unclear job expectations—other than that their parking lot evaluation has to be positive. We feel guilty as mainliners talking about numbers, but people are always out in the parking lot of the church evaluating youth pastors based on how many kids are showing up.
The Numbers Matter
A senior pastor once said to me. “I don’t care about numbers, just give me a quality program.” He was lying. If I had two kids show up, and I was making a full-time salary, he would care about numbers. Eventually I learned that I needed to have 100 kids there for him to feel like I was doing my job. We can deny it all we want, but the bottom line is still the bottom line in youth ministry. The overwhelming majority of the people who make professions of faith and are baptized do so before age eighteen. (Baucham Jr., Voddie (2011-04-05). Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God (p. 210). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.)
The phrase that comes to my mind [Becky Fischer] is “If it’s broken, fix it!” But how? My kids are going to grow up and go to “youth ministry”. Good idea? What are the alternatives? Your thoughts?
Kids in Ministry International
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16 thoughts on “An Honest Look at Youth Ministry”
We love you, Becky, there is no truer answer than prayer, we are about to ramp up our youth and children’s efforts by a significant portion, and I was dumbfounded in what to do with the youth, but after reading this, I am confident in the answers God is giving us. Prayer will pave the way to a massive exodus of young soul winners! People on fire only hold still when they’re dead. Thank you sister.
If it’s broken – fix it! Sounds easy enough. My heart, also, is breaking for this generation. When you mentioned lack of finances and volunteers, truly this is an issue.
We have recently returned to the U.S after living overseas for 10 years with our three teenage sons. It was a culture shock coming back – I’ll tell ya for sure it was!!
Even before our return, the Lord put a heavy burden upon our hearts for the U..S. and I began to seek God about HOW to impact my birth country. “There are many many symptoms, but what is the source, the deepest root that must be effected to bring about a true heart change?”
Having worked with youth for over 20 years, (but not solely in Youth Ministry) I see a very common thread among those who stay with God and those who do not: Encounters with the Heavenly Father’s presence, with the Holy Spirit – whatever term you’d like to use. Personal experiences, or Encounters with the power of God. Those moments when a person KNOWS that they’ve just received a TOUCH from Him, whether or not they understand it all or can analyze it. Ok… so encounters. How do we make this available?
In our own homes, that’s easy for parents who are sold out for God and are willing to live “a lesser life” materially and have time to train their own family. We choose to be available to our children WHEN THEY want/need us – day or night. Not convenient, but really THERE for them.
As ministers – Prayer. Contending for an atmosphere where the youth will encounter God’s presence. BUT, that first has to come down with the Senior Pastor’s blessing – cuz he’s counting numbers (usually) and so, Prayer has to be counted as a worthy way to spend youth leaders’ time. There’s never been a move of God – in any country – without first a move of prayer.
This prayer not only paves the way for God’s Spirit to move in those services or get togethers, or whatever, but Prayer also gives direction on HOW to incorporate “cool” and “spiritual” in to one given package. Most of the answers needed on how to fix what’s broken will come only through dedicated prayer, seeking God’s answers for THAT given group of youth needing to be evangelized and discipled.
I do not believe there is any “perfect formula” on how to “fix what is broken”. God is personal. God is universal, but He meets the individual. SO…. we MUST invest the time to hear from God’s heart on HOW to effectively evangelize and disciple this passionate, zealous generation of potential world evangelizers. We need them desperately – and God knows how to reach them.
Hellow.My name is Rev Norbert from Arusha Tanzania.
I would like to invite you to minister with us.Am the local church pastor at Bethel Family Worship Centre.
Bethel Family Worship Centre under Pentecost Church Arusha is a family oriented church. We are made up of different backgrounds, races, language groups as well as age groups and are united in the love of Jesus Christ. We believe in equality – God’s love for the whole world and we extend this love to others.
In all, the scripture is our solid foundation in the things we do.
We believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and teach/preach without reserve. We do not lose sight that Jesus Christ is the centre focus of all that we do. He wants to touch every one, heal and set every one free. We pray that today and throughout our life that we continue to experience His Loving touch in our life.
Dear friend,let me know how can we work together in Tanzania.Can you please visit and minister with us? Tell me how do you think you can work with our ministries.
Thanks and God bless.
We actually already have leaders in place in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi. Our director in Kenya, Pastor Paul Mwangi, teaches several PowerClub training conferences a year. I believe he has one more coming up this year. Write to him at email@example.com.
Also visit his information here: http://kidsinministry.org/kimi-kenya/
In addition we have several curriculums translated into Swahili, and if you have good internet, you can download them for free by going here: http://kidsinministry.org/resources/more-stuff/swahili-three-curriculums/
A people who don’t know or honor their authority they posess will be overtaken. Teach the youth to heal the sick, raise the dead, sweep the floor and other chores. Teach them that the joy of the Lord is their strength. Respect their calling and how to walk in the spirit. Respect their creativity. Expect God to show up.
We kicked God out of our churches as a whole. Last Spirit-filled church service I went to accused me of having demons because I wanted to pray in the prayer room. A Spirit-filled church closed their prayer room and would not let me pray in a prayer room. Instead of supporting prayer they closed their prayer room. Was accused of having demons for wanting to seek the face of God in a prayer room. I quitely walked to the prayer room when they said it was closed I walked downstairs hoping to find a empty room to pray in. Leaders of the church was disorderly they accused me of having demons. All I knew to do was pray because they surrounded me. I prayed in tongues because I did not want to get in the flesh. They even said demons can speak in tongues. Never heard of that before. I prayed till they stopped pointing their finger at me. I had to say Jesus was Lord before they realized they falsely accused me. I told them that they did not even know me. I can not believe that a spirit-filled church would not support more prayer. Spend money for revival speakers but then close the prayer room and say I have demons for wanting to pray in a prayer room. Church as a whole begging for Jesus to come and when He shows up the church as a whole is pushing God away. This is why the youth is leaving the church as a whole. Why would they want to be somewhere that God is not wanted? And those who seek God are pushed away too. This is why the New Age is growing in numbers. Let God be Lord in church instead of trying to control Him.
Hello there. I would like to comment based on a 17 year old’s soon-to-be-in-college perspective of the matter.
I know exactly what you are talking about because I used to be one of those kids. I gave my life to Christ at age 7 and thought that was all you dd in your Christian walk. Sadly, so many people anywhere from 13 to my age believe that if they walk the aisle and/or say a prayer that their salvation is imment and that they don’t have to do anything else.
I believe that in order to obtain true salvation you must be willing to give your ENTIRE life to Christ. I gained true salvation nearly three weeks ago and I will never be the same. I have given all of myself to Christ and given Him total control. I used to want to be the next Eminem and I practically worshiped myself through my musical talent. But now I have given my musical talent and gifts to God to use me in His ways. The change in me is inevitable, and I pray daily for more teenagers to realize what a difference there is between being a Christian and being saved. I can now boast in Christ and not in myself. That’s my story.
And youth ministry is not a bad idea, but I know a lot of churches that use it to just claim numbers as the writer of this post clearly states. My old church would feed us and have all these fun activities for us to do. Yeah, it was fun, but I never really knew what I was living for. Then, about three years ago, I began attending a new church that revolutionized my life. This new church didn’t feed me or take me to do fun things or anything like that.. This new church was all about worshiping Christ and preaching His Word. I noticed that soon after I started visiting their youth group and it set off a fire in me to find Christ. To truly find what I was missing all those years. And I did. Praise the Lord!
What all this comes down to me saying is that this new church was all business about Jesus..no free food, no fun activities every Wednesday, nothing but God. And that was what I needed.. Christ. Just Christ. And I believe that if someone is truly searching for Him, they won’t care if they have free food and fun activities. They will search after Him like a stray dog searching for food. I pray for the youth ministry of America, and will continue you to. Thank you for this post. God bless. (:
HOLA Becky; desde mi nación puedo decir con respecto a este tiempo de la pastoral juvenil no se le dá el lugar que corresponde a una gran generación atrevida por el Reino desde aquí se han visto y se vén a las grandes mega iglesias compitiendo cuantos miembros tengo y cual o mejor Predicador traigo – hoy nuestros niños están teniendo sueños visiones y están hablando cara a cara con el Padre – Pero hay una generación de Padres que todavia están con los ojos vendados por el espiritu de grecia – mucha Teologia y poca revelación de la palabra de Dios escrudiñar meditar y que nuestro espiritu sea activado más para unirse al de Dios – la iglesia primitiva siempre tuvo que ser vivida por nuestros niños y jovenes – no solo leída .-
HI Becky, from my country I can say about this time of youth ministry is not given the place of a great generation bold for the Kingdom from here have been and are to large mega churches I have few members competing Preacher or better and what I bring – today our children are having dreams and visions are talking face to face with the Father – But there is a generation of parents who still are blindfolded by the spirit of Greece – very little theology and revelation of the God’s word and meditate scrutinize our spirit is turned over to join the Bible – the early church always had to be lived by our children and young people – not just read. –
this is a very vast subject nevertheless I will try and keep it short. This subject brings back memories of my own encounter with Jesus as a young child and as a youth and became a youth leader, a Sunday School Superintendant etc, you name it There’s been very good times in the ministry where children came to know Jesus, great move of the Spirit upon the children, and they get excited about the Lord etc. In my bad times things were just getting by and there is no fire. In my good times I noticed something in myself and the ministry. When I followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit into what I should do, things flow like fire, When I do things not taking time to hear the Spirit, things end flat, lives of the youth is not changed.
I notice when the Spirit leads He gives inspiration, clarification and anointing and when the Word is ministered the atmosphere changes, relationship deepens, Jesus is exalted in the children.
Lastly, parents have always been a big part of that ministry. Parents are good prayer warriors, great for the fatherless and so forth. The question is are we taking time to hear the Spirit since He knows all things or are we just creating programs and hope for the best. I Hope this is helping our topic today. God bless.
Preach it, Sandy!! I won’t let my daughter go to youth group here. I had a hard time letting her go to Sunday school here. The kids were fed coke and then allowed to jump and run all over the furniture before us parents came to pick up our kids.It was all about having fun. No salvations, no scripture reading, just hyper play time.with very young, inexperienced youth leaders. I asked my daughter what she learned and she said “nothin'” and it was true. The kids and the youth need to be taught the Bible!! The whole bible and nothing but the Bible, so help us God!!! We are now going to a Brethren church–3 boring hymns, a piano, lots of old people- My daughter LOVES Sunday School and is memorizing scriptures like crazy. I am learning Bible truths (and I have been a christian for 45 years.)WE NEED TO START TEACHING THE KIDS THE BIBLE!!!
I think the points you have made are well articulated and if the church must maintain a sustain growth, than we must re-visit our approach to evangelism especially, in the area of discipleship. I do feel the church is now more interested in filling its membership roster with peoples’ names then making sure their names are recorded in God’s Book of Life. This is affecting the church globally even here in Liberia. We need to get back to the Bible!
We need to go back to the BIBLE (basic instructions before leaving earth). It tell us everything we need to do. God has left no stone unturned when instructing us on how to bring His kingdom here on earth. I agree with the others that the problem lies not in the youth, but in the instructions that is giving to the youth.Troy hit the nail on the head when he said we have created Hollywood church, thinking that we can serve God, who is Spiritual, with false doctrines and worldly concepts..Let’s get back to basics, by training up the youth in the way of the Lord and not in the way of the world. FOOD FOR THOUGHT>>>No matter how inexperience a baby might be in life or how weak they are in strength, you cannot get them to drink sour milk.We need to stop feeding our youth the garbage.
Teaching and preaching are only preparation for doing. Youth leaders are good because they can draw kids into action that would seem like “a requirement” coming from the generation above. But if the teens do not practice what is preached, youth group is simple a social group. I’m longing to see leaders that lead- that is take the kids into safe “risks” where their faith must be exercised. Meetings should be the place where we plan our goings.
Greetings Becky. I was saved in 1974. During the 80’s,90’s and 2000’s all I heard about was how the youth were going to change the world. “If a revival is coming, it will be through the youth”. Well, where is it. All those youth are now parents and almost grandparents and we are in worst shape now spiritually than we were before. I believe it is because we catered to their flesh and did what THEY wanted just so we could have the numbers. Instead of Holy Ghost youth meetings we had pizza and pop friday night partiies. My friend went to a Baptist Bible College in Virginia and came back early because thier was more drugs and sex going on than High School. Youth forced to go by thier parents. All of us, including young people, need to SEE God at work instead of hearing all the time. That is why witchcraft and the occult is so popular because they actually get to see and do spiritual things. We must break free of religious control and preach the gospel, “Preaching, teaching, and healing. Let’s stop trying to impress people and just do it !
Hi! I am a graduate of Southeastern University in Pastoral Studies. Stating this, I believe, a lot of what is wrong with youth ministries and raising a kingdom culture within youth ministries, is lacking to train up youth ministers. I believe we have great programs, but we need to forget the programs, even though good to learn, and focus on preaching the gospel to those that long to be in ministry. To preach truth with power. To preach prayer. To preach hunger. To preach fasting. In order to raise up this generation we need to raise a standard for equipping youth ministers. I also long to see this younger generation raised up to stand for Christ and have a solid foundation, but I only see this in a culture that has practiced the power of Christ – the realities of His kingdom. Then it seems the youth can’t help but to fall in love forever with Christ. It is not preaching numbers, but it’s preaching the kingdom invading earth!
*I also believe there are youth pastors that preach truth, but I believe there are more in America that lack knowledge of Christ.
Thank you for posting this article. We do need to pray more for the youth and youth leaders in America!
I’ve seen this happening. I began to address it when I was the District Youth Director in Wyoming. Youth minstry has created a dangerous counter culture that is more grounded in hype than reality. We’ve also created an “event” mentality in our youth that says, “God moves in big events and at large rallies”. We haven’t taught them that He moves in quiet moments and in everyday life. I was attempting to do more focusing on student led ministry and individual evangelism before I left my Youth Director’s position. We created a Hollywood Christianity with our youth. We provide mindless entertainment and experiences that don’t transform their daily lives! We can fix it, but it will cost us our numbers, our events, and we might have to give up our tee-shirt canons and bouncers!